A Story About the Love, Loss, Courage and Fight of a True #MamaBear
May 2022 Issue
The author of this story has chosen to remain anonymous due to her ongoing situation. She shares her heartfelt, vulnerable story so another mother,
grandmother or family member may learn from her experience and hopefully prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.
I’m a good mom…and I lost my child.
On Memorial Day, 2019, I was served papers for custody and visitation by my daughter’s biological father. This came as quite a surprise, considering the last time he’d seen her was two years before at a Chick-fil-A for an hour.
Rewind to 2015, before my daughter was born. I was pregnant and he and I had broken up after trying to work things out. Nothing had changed: He had a drug and alcohol problem and couldn’t hold down a job. I knew I could do this on my own, and I was on a mission to be the best mom I could be. When she was only 6 months old, he made the decision to move out of state.
At first, I put in every effort for him to have a relationship with his daughter and for his family to get to know this amazing new baby. I would travel to him, send pictures and videos of her milestones and go out of my way to make sure he got to see her. It was hard work, and after two scheduled visits when he didn’t show up, I had enough. I stopped putting in the extra effort and our lives moved on.
I met an amazing man who took my daughter in as his own. Our relationship grew and we became a family of three. We got married and my husband’s work moved us to another state. All the while, “bio-dad” was never heard from. I had the same phone number and email, but there was complete silence. My daughter’s birthdays and holidays came and went with no word from him.
Back to 2019: I am standing at my front door signing for papers as I’m being served. Complete shock. Now what? I get on Google, find a family attorney and schedule a consultation. At the time, money was tight, so I was looking for a free consultation. I was on an information gathering mission. But hindsight is 20/20, and now, I would suggest paying for a consultation. A lawyer who values their time will charge you for their time and knowledge. (Not saying all attorneys who offer free consultations are necessarily bad.)
I had so many questions:
Can he really come back into her life now?
Does he really have a right to custody of her?
Do I have to send her for visitation?
Surely the answer would be no. She is 5-years-old—an innocent, loving child—who he wanted nothing to do with. And, what does that mean for my husband? He’s the man who has been “Dad” to her in every sense of the word. He is the man that is there for her day-in-and-day-out keeping a roof over our heads and helping put food on the table. What happens to him?
I had so many emotions going through my mind. I was scared of the what ifs, worried about my daughter’s well-being and angry that this man thought he could come swooping back into her life after I had done all the hard stuff.
The consultation with the attorney was a rude awakening—a bucket of ice water dumped over my head. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had to share my child with this man. Now, I am sure you are thinking: This lady is crazy. This is the little girl’s dad, and he wants to be a part of her life and that is fantastic. Why would this “mama bear” be acting this way? It’s plain and simple: My gut—a.k.a. mama’s intuition told me something was wrong.
My gut was telling me this man was not coming from a good place. He had a history of drugs and alcohol and couldn’t be trusted with the care of our daughter, especially at her young age. And, since we live in different states, it would require her to fly to visit with him. I set out on a mission to dot every “i” and cross every “t” before I was going to have to share custody or send my child for visitation. I was gearing up for a fight to protect my child.
First, at the suggestion of my attorney, I hired a private investigator to run a background check on her father. I knew he had a history of arrests and at least one DUI, and there were likely to be more. The background check came up empty. How could that be? I started to second guess myself. The attorney kept saying, “This is just a dad who wants to spend some time with his child. What’s the big deal?” I started to think maybe he changed, grew up and is ready to be a responsible adult. But my intuition kept telling me something different.
Things went quiet for a while. The attorney who was representing “bio-dad” fired him—another red flag. I kept thinking he had not changed; he probably still couldn’t keep a job and didn’t pay his bills. My attorney kept reaching out but there was never any answer.
All the while, life kept moving forward. It was now spring of 2020 and my daughter completed kindergarten and was progressing nicely. Eventually, her biological father contacted my attorney, and something called a parenting plan was being created. (Each state calls this something different, but essentially, it’s a visitation plan.) It spells out who gets to make the decisions, when and for how long the child visits with each parent, along with many other details. It can be very specific or vague depending on how much detail is entered and agreed upon. My suggestion (after the fact) is to be as specific as you can! Go online and read sample plans to get ideas of what fits your child’s needs.
Then COVID hit. My husband’s job was going to change, and we got presented with an opportunity to move to another state. We notified our attorney. He said it wouldn’t be a problem because in the parenting plan there was a sentence that allowed me to move with the child anywhere in the U.S. Great! One less thing to worry about, right?
Our home sold quickly and in no time, we were boxed up and moved into a rental in another state. Everything seemed fine until the winter of 2021. It was like déjà vu, but worse; I was being served with papers, but this time saying I had kidnapped my daughter.
It was life shattering, my jaw hit the ground. I had to go in front of a judge (virtually), and he asked me if I had moved. I said yes, not thinking anything of it. The next thing I knew, the judge awarded “bio-dad” full custody of my child. I was ordered to take her to the airport the next day for her to be picked up. At this point, everything started to move in slow motion, my ears started ringing, and I wanted to throw up. I felt like I had been slapped across the face and punched in the stomach. It was a Tuesday I will never forget.
That afternoon when my daughter got home from school, I had to sit her down and explain to her she was leaving. (She was a six-year-old little girl, leaving her home, school, friends and the family that she knew to go be with a stranger, but his name was “Dad”.) I attempted to put on a brave face and present it as if it was a great thing; she was going on an adventure and how lucky she was! But inside I was dying. For the most part she was brave and courageous. She was curious about this man and was excited for the adventure that was in front her.
For the next five weeks, the only contact I had with her was through a phone. We had never been apart from each other, and every day my heart shattered all over again. She had so many questions: Why was she there? When can she come home? Do I not love her anymore? Did she do something wrong? Her questions went on and on.
I hired another private investigator in the state where “bio-dad” was living, and this time it uncovered three DUIs, arrests for drug possession and driving with a revoked license. He had 18 arrests in two years! Through conversations with my daughter, I learned he was having multiple affairs with various women who were coming and going from the house. My worse nightmare was coming true; my daughter was in harms’ way. My gut was right.
I fired the previous attorney who failed to educate me on the family law statutes, which I now know clearly state you can’t move from the jurisdiction during an active family law case! It’s embarrassing to realize how uneducated I was about the law, and it cost me my child.
Was my worst fear coming true?
Was I going to lose her forever?
My new attorney and I worked feverishly to petition the courts to get her back, especially once his criminal history was revealed and he was driving with a revoked license with a child in the car. And one day, everything just quickly unfolded. The private investigator called me. Bio-dad had been in a car accident with her in the car, and he was being arrested. I was over 1000 miles away, and there was nothing I could do!
I was pacing the floor, biting my nails and going through every emotion possible. Finally, I received a call from my daughter. She was safe with her father’s aunt and told me all about the nice policeman who helped them “because the car broke down.” I was crying and laughing all at the same time. This was finally the break in the case I had been waiting for. I thought for sure I was going to get my child back, and there would be no way a judge would make me send her back to visit this man. Unfortunately, I was wrong again.
The emergency petition we filed was approved, and I was awarded my daughter back, which was the ultimate relief, but the fight clearly wasn’t over. After many court appearances and spending nearly $80,000 in legal fees, we finally settled on an agreement through a professional mediator. There was no way I wanted to go back in front of a judge to have him decide my child’s fate—a judge who doesn’t know my child nor the true circumstances, and yet he is supposed to be ruling on “what is best for the child.” Through the mediator, I was able to create a parenting plan designed to keep my daughter safe, but still allow her father access and visitation.
Today, I can happily say my daughter is home with me and my husband. She now sees a therapist weekly to deal with her anxiety and fear that she will be “taken away” again. She’s seen her father three times in a year—two visits to him, and he has come to visit her once. Every time she goes I hold my breath, but each time so far, she has come home unharmed. Her dad calls maybe once a month, and it is usually a brief conversation. He is still a stranger to her, but she gives him the benefit of the doubt. I have to hold my tongue at every drop off and pick up, but I always put on a smile for my daughter. I only communicate via a co-parenting app and often have to check my tone of language; I am a work in progress.
The moral of my story: Make sure you seek ALL the facts and educate yourself. Ask to see things in writing; you can’t always trust the professionals. It’s easy to get wrapped up in a move and just check custody paperwork off your list, but it could have a tragic effect on you and your family.
This whole process could have and should have taken a different path, one that was less traumatic and costly both financially and emotionally for my family. There are many life lessons that have been learned through this process. First, we have all heard the saying “doing what’s best for the child”, but I never really understood that saying, and I still don’t. How can a judge or lawyer, who has never met my child or been to my home, tell me, her mother, what is best for her? The hard part was to remove my experience, my emotions and my pre-conceived notions of what I thought was right out of the equation.
Talk to your child about what, if any relationship, they want to have with their other parent. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. As parents, we try to shelter them from hurt and harm, but sometimes that is impossible when it comes to custody. It’s okay for them to hurt some, it helps them to grow and learn.
DON’T bad-mouth the other parent. Keep your two cents to yourself, and don’t put your children in the middle. Just because they were a bad spouse, doesn’t mean they will be a bad parent. It’s a different relationship. In any case, use a communication app and try to avoid face-to-face altercations in front of the children. Don’t allow the kid(s) to be the messengers.
Do your research on everything, and I mean everything! From finding the right family attorney for your situation, to understanding the various statutes for your state. Do your homework: Read reviews and ask fellow parents for references. Many of us have been through divorce or custody/child support cases, so ask another mom who they used, or who they would recommend.
Use of a professional mediator: I cannot over stress the importance of a mediator. At first, you may think they are expensive, but I can tell you it’s much cheaper than going through a long drawn-out court case in front of a judge. Most mediators are retired judges or lawyers who have worked in the legal realm for many years and come to the table as a neutral party. Their goal is to help both parents reach a compromise that is attainable and agreeable.
Technology can help:
There are many apps that are available that can help with your process.
Divorceify serves as a roadmap for getting divorced. It makes customized recommendations for an efficient divorce and matches clients to professionals that have been previously vetted, such as attorneys, therapists and mediators.
Mend is an app that may help you recover from the painful end of your relationship. It serves as a life coach type of app that helps you through the emotional ups and downs that come with a separation or custody battle.
OurFamilyWizard (www.ourfamilywizard.com) is a useful app for raising kids separately together. It has an interactive calendar, expense log for sharing costs and being able to reimburse through the app. It also allows for a secure messaging portal that has a “ToneMeter” feature to ensure your language being used in the messages is not emotionally-charged. This has been very helpful when having to communicate with my ex.
CoParenter aims to avoid conflict. This too has a messaging feature with smart filters that help keep communication between parties amicable. You can make requests to swap weekends or alter other plans. If an agreement can’t be made it comes with a Get Help feature and it connects you to a live on-demand mediator or coach.
There are many more apps with various features available, I suggest doing research and finding which app works best to fit your needs.